We’re going to dissect two examples from Scripture portraying people who came face-to-face with the possibility of having a relationship with God. How did each handle the opportunity? The first group, Israel gathered at the base of Mount Sinai, opted for a filtered experience. The second, the believers in Berea, refused to outsource their spiritual quest and embraced God unfiltered. Let’s discover what happened to each group.
As a segment of the Christian church has adopted an “entertain them” mentality, people have become contented in outsourcing their relationship with God. We lean on another person to establish and guide that all-important relationship, to set our beliefs, to satisfy our spiritual hungers, and to tell us what our next steps in life should be.
Without spiritual vigilance this model can degrade quickly into manipulation, motivation by guilt, and squabbles between groups whose leaders hold differing interpretations of Bible teaching. Disunity is a major contributing factor to the current religious landscape with its more than 30,000 protestant denominations.
Israel at Mount Sinai
With a string of miraculous events, God delivered Israel from slavery in Egypt. With an unbelievable string of complaints Israel groused the entire journey to Mount Sinai. It was there that God poured a foundation for the new nation with a code of law detailing His direction for how they were to do life. The story, found in Exodus, provides a snapshot of the preparations the people had to make for the sacred meeting with God.
The LORD also said to Moses, “Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their garments; and let them be ready for the third day, for on the third day the LORD will come down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people. “You shall set bounds for the people all around, saying, ‘Beware that you do not go up on the mountain or touch the border of it; whoever touches the mountain shall surely be put to death.Exodus 19:10-12 NASB
God left no wiggle room in His instructions and on the morning of the third day no one slept in.
So it came about on the third day, when it was morning, that there were thunder and lightning flashes and a thick cloud upon the mountain and a very loud trumpet sound, so that all the people who were in the camp trembled. And Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain.Exodus 19:16-17 NASB
Moses ascended the mountain to meet God, and God commanded Moses to return and warn the people a second time not to pass beyond the established boundary at the base of the mountain. Moses reminded God that the people were already aware of the rules, but God insisted on the second warning. God knows the heart better than man knows the heart.
Now Mount Sinai was all in smoke because the LORD descended upon it in fire; and its smoke ascended like the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mountain quaked violently. When the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke and God answered him with thunder. The LORD came down on Mount Sinai, to the top of the mountain; and the LORD called Moses to the top of the mountain, and Moses went up. Then the LORD spoke to Moses, “Go down, warn the people, so that they do not break through to the LORD to gaze, and many of them perish. “Also let the priests who come near to the LORD consecrate themselves, or else the LORD will break out against them.” Moses said to the LORD, “The people cannot come up to Mount Sinai, for You warned us, saying, ‘Set bounds about the mountain and consecrate it.'” Then the LORD said to him, “Go down and come up again, you and Aaron with you; but do not let the priests and the people break through to come up to the LORD, or He will break forth upon them.” So Moses went down to the people and told them.Exodus 19:18-25 NASB
The display of God’s presence and the sound of His voice on Sinai brought extreme discomfort to the hearts of the people, and they lobbied for a different arrangement.
All the people perceived the thunder and the lightning flashes and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking; and when the people saw it, they trembled and stood at a distance. Then they said to Moses, “Speak to us yourself and we will listen; but let not God speak to us, or we will die.” Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid; for God has come in order to test you, and in order that the fear of Him may remain with you, so that you may not sin.” So the people stood at a distance, while Moses approached the thick cloud where God was.Exodus 20:18-21 NASB
Moses, we can’t handle God unfiltered. We’ll stand at a safe distance and watch while you go meet with God and return with His message. As I pondered those words I recall reading to my children The Tales of Narnia by C. S. Lewis chapter by chapter, book by book. In the first volume Lucy, one of the four Pevensie children, discovered that Aslan whom she is about to meet is a lion, not a man, and she had questions about the meeting. Mr. and Mrs. Beaver provide the answers.
“Is-is he a man?” asked Lucy.
“Aslan a man!” said Mr. Beaver sternly. “Certainly not. I tell you he is the King of the wood and the son of the great Emperor-beyond-the-Sea. Don’t you know who is the King of Beasts? Aslan is a lion – the Lion, the great Lion.”
“Ooh!” said Susan, “I’d thought he was a man. Is he – quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.”
“That you will, dearie, and no mistake,” said Mrs. Beaver; “if there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just silly.”
“Then he isn’t safe?” said Lucy.
“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”
Israel played it safe and passed the close-up encounter with God to Moses. Their commitment to obey God’s expectations dissolved as they stood disconnected at a distance. Their dismal failure became public as they constructed and worshipped a golden calf, all while Moses communed with God atop Mount Sinai.
Group two opted for a different path. Paul escaped an angry mob in Thessalonica and arrived in Berea where he taught in their synagogue. His message, the same words which stirred a violent reaction in Thessalonica, had a different effect in Berea.
The brethren immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived, they went into the synagogue of the Jews. Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so. Therefore many of them believed, along with a number of prominent Greek women and men.Acts 17:10-12 NASB
Bereans didn’t take Paul’s word for anything. They listened to his teaching then dug into the scrolls and studied. Before they would embrace “The Way” or become followers of Jesus they desired to know for themselves what the Scriptures taught. The Holy Spirit then led them through the Truth to believing faith.
Now which group do I want to join? Am I content to let the pastor or my group leader be close to God so he can read the Bible and pray and tell me what to think? Am I willing to let him serve as my relational proxy so I might do the God thing but with a time-saving short cut? Many church members think that as long as we pick the right guy, trained by the correct seminary and carrying the appropriately stamped denominational credentials, we should be OK.
Certainly God give pastors to the church to provide guidance and teaching, but what dangers arise when church members outsource their relationship with God to whatever that pastor experiences? Members may fail to develop a relationship with God on their own. What happens to a ministry built around the charisma of a strong personality when that shining star flames out through resignation or retirement? Pastor churn is a fact. The average time a pastor remains in his position runs from 3 to 6 years. And church migration is also a fact as people wander between congregations searching for something they’ve missed.
Leadership churn, spiritual lethargy, feelings of emptiness, widespread weakness in the all-important personal relationship each believer should have with God, the inability to feed ourselves spiritually – I used to wonder why church members fight and congregations split like amoebas. We’re missing out on the mountain top experience, and we seem OK with that. We are too busy to search for ourselves and see how God reveals Himself in His Word. We’re comfortable allowing someone else to tell us what God thinks or expects without looking for ourselves.
Remove the filters. Dig into God’s Word. Listen to Him. Talk to Him. Say something nice to Him instead of always asking. Think about Him and His expectations. Get to know Him.
Don’t outsource your relationship with God or filter that relationship through another person’s experience. No, God’s not safe, but He wants you to know Him for yourself. Consider this subset of the personal invitations He’s left for us in His Word.
‘Call to Me and I will answer you, and I will tell you great and mighty things, which you do not know.’Jeremiah 33:3 NASB
“Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and YOU WILL FIND REST FOR YOUR SOULS. “For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”Matthew 11:28-30 NASB
‘Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me.Revelation 3:20 NASB
Wow! The King of kings has given us a personal invitation to join Him, without any filters. Are we ready for the challenge?
Image credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA, E. Noyola. This image shows the globular cluster NGC 6380, which lies around 35,000 light-years from Earth, in the constellation Scorpio (the Scorpion).
 C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (New York, NY: Harper, 1950).